What is the Difference Between Superficial Veins & Deep Veins?

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We talk a lot about veins here on the VCA blog, but there are some basics we want to make sure we cover.

One of those is the difference between superficial veins and deep veins of the leg. Many people don’t know there are different types of veins, and knowing that difference is important in knowing more about the vein issues you currently are (or may later be) suffering from.

Read on to find out what superficial veins are, what deep veins are, and why paying attention to both is important to your health.

What are Superficial Veins?

The name superficial is a bit misleading. Superficial veins are both the ones you see on the surface and some larger more important ones that lurk below the surface, not visible to the eye. These veins tend to be the ones that protrude when you are working out or lifting something heavy. However, their purpose is not merely superficial.
These veins are the ones responsible for carrying your body’s blood from tissue to the deep veins. Without the help from superficial veins, deep veins would not be able to properly do their job.

This means that when a superficial vein is damaged, it can cause a ripple effect of problems for your body.

Learn how to tell if your vein problems are more than just cosmetic here.

What are Deep Veins?

Deep veins are, as you can likely guess, deeper than the surface of your skin. These veins are surrounded by muscle and are much bigger than superficial veins. The bigger size of deep veins is due to the fact that these veins have the job of carrying most of your blood back up to your heart for your body to use and recycle.

There are seven major deep veins in your lower body, and these ones work the hardest to get blood back up to your heart since they are the veins farthest away from your heart.

Because these veins are so important and because they have to work so hard, Taking care of them and protecting them is important to help avoid serious complications. Superficial and Deep Vein Problems

Varicose Veins

Varicose veins are a result of damaged veins and show themselves as blue, twisted, and sometimes swollen veins. They are fairly common, and 25% of adults in the U.S. will suffer from varicose veins at some point. This problem is caused by damaged valves that don’t allow your veins to do their job of directing blood back up to your heart. Your leg veins are fighting gravity all day, trying to move that blood uphill, so those one-way valves are critical to the veins functioning properly.

While varicose veins don’t always scream “danger,” (some people find that their varicose veins are never more than a cosmetic issue), there is no way to determine the level of severity of your vein issue without talking to a vein specialist.  From this, it can be determined whether your veins need to be treated, or whether they can be left as is. There are many complications that can occur, both at the skin surface and in your deep vein system, as a result of varicose veins and superficial vein disease.

See below for a look at before and after varicose veins images of real VCA patients.

womans leg before and after varicose vein treatment

before and after varicose veins

Superficial Thrombophlebitis

One of the most common vein diseases in superficial veins is called superficial thrombophlebitis — a fancy way of saying “blood clots.” While these clots should certainly not be ignored, they do not pose the same level of threat that blood clots in deep veins do. Then can progress into or put you at increased risk of developing a deep vein blood clot, so they should be checked out. In order to ensure that the vein issues you’re facing are indeed due to a superficial clot rather than a deep clot, you want to consult with a vein specialist. This is the only way to know, without a doubt, that your vein problem is not a sign of something bigger.

Deep Vein Thrombophlebitis

Similar to superficial thrombophlebitis, deep vein thrombophlebitis is a blood clot. However, this type of blood clot is much more serious than a superficial clot because, if left untreated, deep vein thrombophlebitis (a.k.a deep vein thrombosis), can lead to pulmonary embolism. Pulmonary embolism happens when the blood clot leaves your damaged leg vein and travels to the lung, which can lead to death. Thus, if you feel that you may be suffering from DVT, it is imperative you get to a vein specialist ASAP.

Interested in reading more about vein disorders? Explore our collection of topics.

Do you have questions about your vein issues?

Medically Reviewed by

Dr. Satish Vayuvegula
Dr. Satish Vayuvegula is the National Medical Director at Vein Clinics of America. Certified by the American Board of Venous & Lymphatic Medicine, Dr. Satish Vayuvegula is recognized as a physician who has met rigorous standards of knowledge and extensive training in phlebology, the diagnosis and treatment of varicose vein disease and related disorders. Dr. Satish also shares his passion and expertise by serving as a board member of the American Vein and Lymphatic Society, the predominant national organization for venous and lymphatic disease.

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